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Full text of "A history of the Society of Connecticut Craftsmen, 1935-1955"

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77 



A HISTORY OF 



THE SOCIETY OF CONNECTICUT CRAFTSMEN 



1935 - 1955 



OFFICERS 
of the Society of 

CONNECTICUT CRAFTSMEN 
* * ■* ■* 



President 

Mr. Wilson S. Dakin 1935-1939 

Rev. Elmer To Thienes I939-I9I+6 

Mr. Evan F» Kullgren I9I+6-I952 

Mr. Henry Pasco 1952-195^ 

Miss Emily Hopson 195^-- 

Editor 
Mrs. Alberta Pfeiffer 19^7- 

Assistant Editor 
Miss Wilma Keyes 1953" 

Field Secretary 

Mr. Leonard So Rankin 
Miss Mariana Armstrong 
Miss Elizabeth Titcomb 
Mr. Alexander Crane 
Mr. Wilson So Dakin 

Recording Secretary 

Mrs o Margaret Kapteyn 19^9-1950 

Miss Helen Haselton 1950-1952 

Miss Kay White 1952 -195 1 *- 

Mrso Thomas Skirm 195*4-- 

Assistant Secretary 
Mrs. Watson Woodford 1950- 



3<. 



Vice President 

Mrs. Harold G. Holcombe 
Mr. W. Gayer Domini ck 
Mr. Leonard S. Rankin 

Mrs. Alberta Pfeiffer - -1952 

Mrs. Amy Wertheimer 1952-1953 

Miss Emily Hopson 1953-195 1 !- 

Mr. Charles W. Chase 195^-1955 

Mrs. Co T„ Broshkevitch 1955- 

Treasurer 

Keith Smith, Jr. 
Mr. James L. Goodwin 
Mr. J. Co William 
Mr. Francis P. Webb 

Mrs. Leslie Cone - -1952 

Mr. W. G. Fitch I952-I953 

Mr. Kenneth Wheeler 1953-1954 

Miss Bertha Pabst 195*4-- 



■X--X--*-**-*-*-*-**-**-*-* 



HONORARY MEMBERS 

Mrs. Beatrice Auerbach Mrs. Myra Rankin 
Mr. Linton S« Crandall Mr. Evan F» Kullgren 



h 



THE SOCIETY OF CONNECTICUT CRAFTSMEN 
1935 — 1955 

IT IS VERY NATURAL FOR THOSE WHO MAKE things to enjoy getting together. To 
create an organization of people who make things is an achievement that the Society 
of Connecticut Craftsmen has been proud of for twenty years. This has been an 
achievement not only of people getting together but particularly of people getting 
things done. When a private organization accomplishes all that this one has, it is 
gratifying to go back into the history to discover how all this has developed and who 
made it possible , Undoubtedly, it goes back more than twenty years to the crafts 
tradition that is as old as New England itself when native materials were converted 
into utilitarian objects. This organization reflects an earlier tradition for thrift 
and ingenuity that devised double -sided wooden plates to be turned over for pie on 
one side only after the johnnycake and baked beans had been cleaned up on the other. 
The fact that necessity fostered inventiveness was proven by the productivity of our 
forefathers whose household articles were the handcrafts of a pioneering nation. 
Witness the museum collections and restoration centers of today. People stand 
fascinated by the ingenuity of those pioneering forefathers who construed from native 
materials articles we would be proud of today - a door hinge or a porringer; a 
spoonholder or a chest of drawers; all attest to the kind of perceptive people New 
England consisted of. Paul Revere may have made one kind of history by riding a 
horse alone one Spring night a couple cf hundred years ago, but his silverware will 
ever remain an inspiration to every generation of silversmiths. The tale of Connec- 
ticut's wooden "nutmegs" carved by a native farmer from his own trees to hoodwink 
colonial housewives may not be the origin of today's wooden ware but it has given 
spice to Connecticut's craftsmanship or craftiness, whichever one prefers to call it. 
Nick Disbrowe of Hartford was cabinetmaker par excellence before seventeen hundred. 
His sunflower carvings on oak chests have been an inspiration to his successors who 
have made the Connecticut Chest a special name in cabinet making. 

In 1935, THREE CENTURIES OF THE Nutmeg State's History were celebrated. A 
unique feature of this tercentenary was an exhibit of Connecticut cabinetmaking held 
in Hartford's Wadsworth Atheneum. It was assembled by Luke Vincent Lockwood, a 
national authority on early Americana. It included rare pieces of furniture and 
furnishings up to 1810 when this industry was particularly active in the state. Here 
was wood, frequently of native origin, shaped and joined by craftsmen whose signature 
frequently appeared on chests, chairs and tables » Here was craftsmanship becoming a 
native tradition in Connecticut, not only in the use of wood but in other materials, 
such as tin, brass and silver. It is true that Connecticut has witnessed the con- 
version of the one-man-shop into the factory and on into the industrial plant where 
machinemade products make Connecticut known around the world. Still, this state has 
never relinquished its love for the individual craftsman who creates original ideas, 
initiates trends and devises new ways of operating. Here is evidence of Connecticut's 
early training in using a two-sided plate; one for the individual craftsman, the other 
for machine production. It is surprising how many machine operators there are now 
who use their home workshop for creative activity. 



THE FIRST DECADE 

In 1935, THE SOCIETY OF CONNECTICUT CRAFTSMEN was formed. How much the Tercen- 
tenary Exhibit of early craftsmanship had to do with the formation of a Twentieth 
Century version of Yankee craftsmanship can only be guessed. There is no doubt but 
that the vision of certain people and the continued hard work of many is responsible 
for the success of this organization „ The charter members comprised a small company 
of craftsmen who were brought together by Leonard Rankin and his wife, Myra. Both 
were crafts experts from the New York Society of Craftsmen . In taking up residence 
in Connecticut, they realized the value of organization. What is more, they could 
foresee many of the potentials that exist today. It was the Rankins who were largely 
responsible for formulating the aims and activities of the present Society, Mention 
the name of this couple to any early member and you can expect to hear nothing but 
gratitude and praise for expert assistance and friendly interest. Selflessly this 
modest pair travelled to all corners of the state, building the framework for the 
present powerful organization. 

THE FIRST ACTIVITY OF THIS NEW Society was an exhibit. It was held in the same 
art museum in Hartford that featured the Tercentenary showing of furniture; the 
Wadsworth Atheneum» How natural it was to assemble crafts done by living members 
of the State in 1936, one year after the historical showing. Here was Connecticut's 
future heritage. To most of the visitors at this show, it was a revelation to dis- 
cover how many craftsmen operated in one's home state „ We do not know how many of 
these visitors resolved to be craftsmen after seeing this exhibit but we do know 
what was written about it in the newspapers : 

"The exhibit which is being held under the auspices 
of the newly organized Society of Connecticut 
Craftsmen has been arranged, to show what is being 
done by experienced artists, and what may be done 
by those who are looking for some means of self 
expression. The organization will provide in- 
struction in design, finish and marketing of craft- 
work. Its intent is to help people occupy free 
time, supplement their earning power and have 
adequate opportunity for expression in the arts." 

Here then was another kind of pioneering. The purchasing public was given an oppor- 
tunity to recognize and patronize a private enterprise composed of people formerly 
unknown. 

THE NEXT YEAR, 1937, MARKED THE SECOND important activity. This time it was 
a national exhibit in Washington, D. Co giving special recognition to hand arts from 
the rural areas of the country „ It commemorated the Department of Agriculture's 
seventy-fifth year of existence. Connecticut's newly formed society was well rep- 
resented and many of those who exhibited are still prominent. Myra Rankin, Donn 
Sheets, Luman Kelsey and Dorothy Walden were some of them. 

Reverend Elmer Thienes, who was to become the Society's second president, broadcast 
an appeal to Connecticut people to recognize their local craftsmen in 1937: 

"All over Connecticut her craftsmen of an earlier 
day have literally left the products of their skill 
to make our life of this day the richer and we are 



more and more appreciating the beauty and the worth 
of their work. Today Connecticut craftsmen are 
still carrying on with the same skill, the same 
originality, the same creative instinct. How much 
more do people prefer something made by some in- 
dividual they know --by hand — to something 
wrought by machine. There is a difference in 
character, an originality in design, a character 
and quality all its own There are men and women 
with the will to create and the skill to do beauti- 
ful things whose soul is in their hands as the 
artist's is." 

These words carried much the same message as Roy Hilton's did in a national magazine 
of that day: 

"America does not need less machinery but it needs 

more civilization not slavish duplicates but 

more hand wrought things of every sort » " 

SALES ARE THE NATURAL OUTCOME OF making products and exhibiting them. As early as 
May 1937, Mr. and Mrs. B F Andrews shared their Hartford home for the sale of hand 
wrought things and as the permanent headquarters of the Society. This circumstance 
of having permanent headquarters has never existed since. Sales, however, have ex- 
tended into various parts of the State „ Beginning sales were conducted in the summer, 
though many were established in the fall or as per-Christmas opportunities. Important 
among the early activities were the sales held prior to 19*4-0 in Granby at the James 
Lee Loomis estate and in Norfolk at Battell House. In 19^2, the sales at Battell 
House had to be cancelled because of gasoline rationing. The process of collecting 
items for these sales constituted a survey not only of available craftsmen but of the 
opportunities for crafts production* Important in this respect is the leadership 
of Mr. and Mrs, Rankin. They had rare insight in predicting needs and fostering the 
human values of creativity. Too much cannot be said in praise of their devotion, 
friendliness and encouragement. The Society stands today as a monument to their vision, 

I was first introduced to the Rankins in 19^0 when they were organizing sales 
outlets during National Art Week. We conducted a sale in Storrs, so did New London, 
New Milford, Stamford and Hartford „ I recall how trucks from the State's Federal Art 
Project delivered the crafts items that had been assembled by Mr. Rankin, as Field 
Secretary of the Society. The amount of crafts offered at this sale was sizeable 
and varied and showed evidence of the survey which W c S. Dakin, as first president 
of the Society, reported on in 1937= In that two year survey, Mr. Dakin stated that 
a large number of craftsmen were working in isolated areas of the state unknown to 
the purchasing public and with no opportunity for criticism or instruction Mr. Dakin 
retired as President in 1939, hut not as an active coordinator. Through his know- 
ledge of the state as Rural Supervisor of the State Department of Education and because 
of his deep interest in the growth of the society, Mr„ Dakin was able to bring about 
the cooperation of the State Department of Education and the Society of Connecticut 
Craft smen„ 

EDUCATION FOR CRAFTSMEN WAS FEATURED in the first decade of the organization's 
growth much as it continued to be in the last. The Y„M.C.A and the State Depart- 
ment of Education figure largely in thiso Elmer Thienes was the Secretary of the 
Hartford Y.M.C.A., and President of the Society from 1939 to 191*6. The State Depart- 
ment of Education, The State Development Commission and the Governor were alerted by 
officers of the Society regarding some form of cooperative action as early as 1940, 
Governor Cross commended the crafts society on New London Day in 1937: 

"I am in hearty accord with the aims of the Society 



of Connecticut Craftsmen, Inc. which has just es- 
tablished headquarters at 762 Farmington Avenue in 
West Hartford. This organization has sensed the 
need of an outlet for handmade articles of many 
kinds, produced by people living for the most part 
in our outlying districts, and not able to secure 
other employment and I hope it will meet with eager 
cooperation on all sides." 

In 19^5 The Commissioner of Education, Dr., Alonzo Grace, outlined the State program 
for cooperative action with the Society of Connecticut Craftsmen. 

1. Appointment of a field worker . 

2. Reorganization of Vinal Technical School as a 
demonstration center for Arts and Crafts, Indus- 
trial and Fine Arts*, 

3. Development of production or sales program,, 

k. Development of specialized training opportunity 
in several sections of the State » 

5 . Provision for use of qualified members of arts 
and crafts groups, 

6, Improvement of Arts and Crafts programs in schools. 

In that same year, the first Educational Program was inaugurated by the State Board 
of Education A director was appointed to carry out an educational program beginning 
with Vinal School in Middletown as a war rehabilitation service. Since then, Mr. Kenneth 
Lundy has conducted a total of ten summer workshops all except the first having been 
held in Willimantic at the State Teachers College . This annual workshop is considered 
to be one of the best in the country thereby attracting an increasing number of out-of- 
state craftsmen. The Crafts Society and the Department of Education of Connecticut 
have cooperated well, neither one having lost its identity in a service to the state „ 

In the fall of 1938* Leonard Rankin reported the needs of the field. These are 
timely enough today to bear repeating ° 

1. District Organization 

2. Development of local units 

3. Regional meetings 

h. Aid in design of saleable products 

5 . Traveling exhibits 

6. Publicity 

7. A Directory of Members 

His estimation of the value of crafts were 

1. Satisfaction of the individual 

2. Increased income from sales and the satisfaction 
of producing something of value to others . 

3. Social values within a community working as a 
group with common interests. 

These statements are the outcome of the team-work and clear thinking of Mr. Rankin, 
Mr. Dakin and Mr. Thienes whose combined efforts were so dedicated to this organization. 
On occasions when the society would have otherwise been abandoned, the loyalty and 
esteem that was felt by the members toward these men was the basis for continuing the 
organization. Mr. Thienes extended his term as president at a great sacrifice to his 
health. Mr. Dakin became Field Secretary at a time when the future of the society 
depended upon his services. 



8. 



19^-0 WAS AN ACTIVE YEAR AND AN important one for the Society. War in Europe was 
making it impossible to import craft items so American products were more in demand. 
Important cornerstones were laid and the members were shouldering great responsibil- 
ities and initiating momentous plans <, President Thienes summed it up at that year's 
Annual Meetings 

"The Society is primarily a recognition of the 
importance of conserving human values inherent in 
the crafts, - creativeness, - beauty, - 
originality - skill. It represents not only the 
maintenance of a great tradition but a stimulus to 
make that creative impulse vital for the present 
day . . o . . A great faith and a lot of hard work has 
made this possible „ " 

At that same meeting Richard Bach, a speaker from New York's Metropolitan Museum 

expressed his philosophy: 

"The spirit of craftsmanship involves something more 
than your individual feeling about it. It involves 

your relationship with other craftsmen a pulling 

together to advance something essential New 

England can be an artistic producing center." 

By 19^0 > "the isolated craftsmen of the state who were previously unknown to 
each other or to the purchasing public were achieving recognition. The first direct- 
ory of members was issued in the form of a map. In one corner, there appeared the 
seal which had been adopted by the society It is significant that Myra Rankin 
designed this seal for it served on tags, seals and stationery wherever identifica- 
tion was required. Recently the seal has been revised to include the founding date, 
1935 • This has been a twentieth anniversary contribution of Florence Pettit who has 
carefully retained the original conception of the tree in the circle with the words 
Function, Material, Design,, 

The war years were difficult ones. Funds were exceedingly low and the finances 
of the society suffered. Too much can never be said for those friends of the society 
who rescued it from its financial crisis „ War production sapped all crafts materials 
and manpower to such a degree that most of the activities of the society were sus- 
pended from 1941 to 19^6. Those craftsmen who did meet were apt to be in uniform 
or in assembly line production,, Fortunately for the crafts movement, the Worcester 
Art Museum initiated a New England Crafts Exhibit in 19^3 . This did much for the 
prestige of crafts in New Englando So did Allen Eaton's book which was published 
concurrently . In New York, 19^3 marked the inception of an organization that 
fostered national recognition of handcrafts „ This was the American Craftsmen's 
Educational Council which Connecticut's society affiliated with. This organization 
founded the bimonthly magazine, Crafts Horizons to which some of Connecticut crafts- 
men have contributed articles. This is also the headquarters of America House, a 
gallery museum and retail shop where certain of our members reach a national clientele 



9- 



THE SECOND DECADE 



THE NEXT TEN YEARS OF THE SOCIETY have witnessed a revival of crafts so vast and 
with so much ardor as to almost run away with itself. The "business carried on at 
Directors ' meetings has had to be accelerated by Evan Kullgren, Henry Pasco and Emily 
Hopson, presiding presidents since 19MS. The Bulletin, "Connecticut Craftsman" has 
become increasingly vital as a means of recording activities and of keeping members 
informed. Its fame has spread to non -members who have become regular subscribers. 
The success of this bulletin is due to one person - the editor, Alberta Pfeiffer, 
Architect of Hadlyme, who has devoted untold hours of writing and attending meetings 
and reporting events. What reflects is the kind of spirit and indomitable vision 
of the society's founders. The Bulletin IS Alberta Pfeiffer, Little did she sus- 
pect that Volume One, Number One in I9V7 would develop into Volume Nine under her 
editorship. Certainly the current printed and illustrated monthly volume is a 
gigantic forward step since the first Bulletin was mimeographed in 1939° 

After the war, there was a revival of interest in sales of craftsmen's wares « 
City centers proved to be the most popular and Hartford the most central. Donchian's 
and Sage Allen's were generous with their space. However, it is the Centinel Hill 
Hall of G. Fox & Company that has formally been the location of the Society's Annual 
Fair. Since 19^7 j the attractive setting and friendly atmosphere of craftsmen per- 
sonally selling their wares is an experience no shopper ever forgets. Mrs. Auerbach, 
President of the store, assigns her display experts each year to provide the kind of 
settings that do great justice to all the crafts products. 

It is extraordinary how continued encouragement released a flood of craft 
products too numerous for a single sale. Shop outlets were the only answer, and the 
past five years have witnessed the opening of many. Prominent in the western part 
of the State, is the popularity of the Winsted Craft Shop created by Mr. and Mrs. 
Harry Parsons in their Main Street home. It has become a happy hunting ground for 
crafts. In fact, The Parsons have generated an interest in craft products far be- 
yond the matter of being representatives of the Society. It is unfortunate that 
this shop happened to be in the center of the most devastating floods of 1955. 
It's gratifying to have the shop opened anew and to know that the crafts items were 
saved from the deluge. Other shops sponsored by the Society have been Bridgeport 
and Hebron in particular, the latter having served for two summers in the eastern 
region of the state, thanks to Evan Kullgren's initial efforts. The combined sales 
of crafts of our society have climbed from $6600 in 1951; $12,1*00 in 1952; $19,000 
in 1953; $22,000 in I95U5 and every indication for a similar gain in 1955 returns. 

All this sales activity has created merchandizing and marketing problems along 
with the need for standards. Emily Hopson, the present President has sponsored 
committees for improving standards and merchandising. 'She was responsible for 
bringing the New York designer, Freda Diamond, to present a challenging future for 
craftsman at an annual meeting.. After several previous issues, a Handbook of 
Craft Standards was organized and printed under the direction of Helen Haselton. 
This has been surprisingly popular both in and out of the state as a convenience 
in checking and judging the merits of any crafts item D 

The past ten years have witnessed many special activities too numerous to 
mention, but Society-sponsored scholarships are of great importance educationally. 
President Henry Pasco launched this activity in 195*4- o In the two years these 
scholarships have been granted, seven members have been selected as recipients. 
Some have attended the Crafts Workshop in Willimantic, others, the Brookfield Crafts 
Center of Nancy DuBois. 



10, 

Regional group meetings have been particularly active. A central program chair- 
man has kept in touch with regional activities and has provided speakers from within 
the organization. These regional meetings are spontaneous gatherings bounded by no 
geographical lines where those of similar interests gravitate. They are not tightly 
organized groups, as some expect, but neighborly get-togethers. Conversation usually 
centers around crafts and the ways and means of operating. Frequently there is a 
program with discussions of organization, design and standards; or it may be a 
craftsman demonstrating, or a professional who injects a new point of view- 

Recent years have witnessed the organization of the New England Crafts Council; 
an interstate representation of crafts groups who benefit by each other's experiences. 
Connecticut has served as host for two of their crafts seminars; one in jewelry, the 
other, enameling. Certain Connecticut craftsmen have crossed into neighboring states 
to demonstrate their superior accomplishments. All of these seminars have been en- 
thusiastically attended. 

Further evidence of the interchange of craftsmanship is apparent on a national 
basis. Without doubt, Designer -Craftsmen U.S.A. - 1953> proved to be a most important 
collective achievement as it travelled to museums across the nation bringing Connec- 
ticut craftsmen their share of acclaim. This is a tribute not only to the contemporary 
crafts movement but to the state organizations that made it possible. It is not 
surprising that some members of this organization are able to receive full support 
financially from their crafts accomplishments. 

IN TRACING THIS HISTORY OF Connecticut's Craft Society, there is one remaining 
activity of singular importance, not only for its own membership, but for its link 
with the larger national movement which is closing the gap that separates the artist 
from the craftsman. This is the juried show where the craftsman's work is exhibited 
on a par with that of the artist in art centers and museums. The first of these 
crafts prestige shows were held in 1952, 1953 a *id 195^+ in the Silvermine Guild in 
Norwalko The first one was entitled "The Living Arts" favoring only the contemporary 
style. This caused some confusion among the craftsmen since contemporary as a style 
could not be clearly defined. It remained for Alberta Pfeiffer, as Chairman of this 
activity, to assume the responsibility of writing personal letters to many craftsmen 
to explain the position of the jurors who had rejected excellent items that were too 
traditional in character. This must have acted as a great stimulant toward increas- 
ing creativity on the part of all members if one can judge by the 1955 spring exhibit 
in New Britain's Art Institute, "Handcrafts in Today's Living". An overwhelming 
quantity of superbly designed articles for home use attracted crowds of visitors. One 
heard ecstatic remarks exchanged, such as, "I did not know you had it in you" and "Can 
you believe all this?" Connecticut is proud to be a part of the New England Crafts 
Exhibit in the Worcester Art Museum. It's proud of the fact that it coincides with the 
twentieth anniversary exhibit of our own. 

There is every reason to believe that the anniversary show celebrating two decades 
of society growth must be a crowning achievement at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hart- 
ford; the birthplace of that first exhibit. It will be historically important to 
honor those charter members who twenty years ago founded this Society of Connecticut 
Craftsmen that is a credit to its Connecticut Yankee heritage., It is equally im- 
portant to honor those members who today are attaining eminence that will remain a 
cultural inspiration to future generations. 

Wilma Keyes 



11. 



****** 

This History- 
is dedicated to 
THE CHARTER MEMBERS 
of the 
Society of 
Connecticut Craftsmen 
****** 



Mrs, Edna Anderson 
Mr. Thomas Belden 
Mrs. Elma A. Clark 
Mrs . Adelaide Crandall 
Mr. Lenton Crandall 
Mr. Wilson So Dakin 
Miss M. Wo Freethy 
MTo James L. Goodwin 
Mr. Luman Kelsey 
Mrs. R. W. Moyle 
Mr„ Leonard Rankin 
Mrso Myra Rankin 
Miss Lois Shaw 
Mr. Donn Sheets 
Mr. Keith Smith, Jr. 
Mrs o Dorothy Walden 
Mr. Louis Walden 



Wilma Keyes 




University of 
Connecticut 

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